I went to Jian Ghomeshi’s launch of his new book, 1982 in early October. Though it took me a while to warm up to Mister Ghomeshi when his dulcet tones began to waft from the maw of CBC Radio 1, he has since become one of my favourite radio personalities. He is smart, finds amazing guests and gives insightful and in-depth interviews. And yes, his graceful yet uncompromising method of dealing with Mr. Billy Bob Thorton during the infamous interview made me respect him even more. Not many people can be so calm and collected after such a confrontation. I really hope that Mr. Ghomeshi (Jian, can I call you Jian?) went home and drank a bottle of whiskey while sobbing and shaking in a corner; it would prove that he is merely human like the rest of us and not some sort of zen saint (sorry for the cross-religious metaphor)…
But I digress.
So I was very intrigued about his new book, a memoir of his first year in high school. I am exercising considerable restraint by not committing an americanism and calling it his freshman year. Here in lil ol’ Canada we call it like it is: grade nine. Or at least how it was in Ontario in 1982. First year of high school in Montreal is called Secondary 1. Which is Grade 7 for the rest of the world.
Oh, how I digress…
But back to Mr. Jian Ghomeshi and his memoir. At the launch he told the audience that he wanted to revisit this year of his life for several reasons. One was to explore the challenges/nuances/complexities of being a first generation Iranian in a predominantly white suburban Toronto neighborhood. The second was to highlight how our relationship with music (and arguably any other media) has changed as the distribution means become quicker, easier, and more ubiquitous (eg. in 1982 you had to go to the record store and buy the record. In 2012 you press a button on your computer at home – you don’t even have to put on pants.) Thirdly because it was a pivotal year in his life (again, we could all probably argue the same thing for our 14th year).
Did he succeed? Well, yes and no. Here is how he sums up that year of his life (this is the quote on the back of his book):
“And so it turns out 1982 was a pivotal year in my life. 1982 [he wrote it out but I am too lazy] was the year I became New Wave. In my goal to be like Bowie, I acquired the black clothing, the hair gel, and some of the attitude to fit in with the punks and New Wavers. Or at least, I cam close by the end of the year. And it didn’t help that all the heroes in New Wave were white like Bowie – although I liked to imagine that Bowie had no race. he was too cool.”
Ghomeshi writes in a style that attempts to mimick the voice of a fourteen-year old. I am pretty sure that is intentional. The book is about his 14th year after all. But it is a memoir so he is speaking to us as an adult remembering his past. Though I appreciate what he is trying to do, I really do, it is only half successful. There is a weird disconnect between the tone when he is remembering a certain event and his very Q-like (Q is the name of his radio show for all of you who are not addicted to CBC as I am) soliloquies about technology or music. It also borders on the annoying- but perhaps neurotic fourteen-year old boy’s internal dialogue is tiresome for everyone, including the 14-year old boy. Maybe that’s the point.
I so often miss the point.
He does touch on the feeling he had of never fitting in because of his ethnicity, but honestly, with a few exceptions, most of the ill-ease was in his own head. Which I guess is an interesting insight into how New Canadians must feel in general. As for the issue of technology, the point was made once and didn’t need to be belaboured again and again. The joke of the phone with the cord on it, or the fact that we didn’t have cell phones at the time and were not always available, or worse had to actually (gasp) share a communal phone that was permanently affixed to a wall got a little redundant to the point of feeling a tad condescending. Yes, golly gee, how things have changed. Let us now move on…
Where Ghomeshi did shine, in fact shined so much I got shivers, was when he was talking about the music that influenced him and the concerts he attended during that year. The most notable in terms of his own musical influences and the plot of the story (he attends the concert with his crush at the time) was the Police Picnic of that year. His description of the Talking Heads and their impact on him made me very sad that I was too young to have seen them in concert:
I had never seen or experienced anything quite like the Talking Heads. Ever. All of a sudden, it was as though there were a hundred people onstage. I barely knew where to focus my attention. There was a cool blond woman playing bass….And at the centre of it all was a tall, thin guy with an elastic body that was contorting in ways I had never witnessed. He was like a rubber man. He was also somewhat androgynous. And then he started singing/ Or speaking. Or announcing. And his words were profound. And weird. And funny. And he captured my attention like no one had beyond Bowie.- 1982, p.173
Good stuff. In all, 1982 was an entertaining if slightly inconsistent read. Perhaps much of its value will be for people my age or slightly older who will recognise the music and the style as well as themselves in Ghomeshi’s 14-year old incarnation.
Though I gotta say. what a bloody awkward age. Wait- I take it back Mr. Ghomeshi. I don’t need you to curl up with a bottle of whiskey after a bad interview anymore. Proof of your regular-ness is here in all its 284 page glory. As if to confirm this, I am listening to your new wave station and The Human League are crooning I’m Only Human.